Surrealist and Magical Realism
This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Radio Reader's Book Club. This is a discussion of the book Like Water for Chocolate by Mexican author, Laura Esquivel.
Taking this book from a cultural perspective, I am reminded of how surrealism and magical realism has been so prominent in Hispanic literature, even as far back as the 1600s with Cervantes' Don Quixote. Surrealism can often convey ideas, truths, and critiques with more impact than simple descriptions or recounting of facts. Through the metaphorical language that surrealism and magical realism provide, emotional truths and feelings can be communicated, as well as thinly veiled social and political commentary.
In Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel centers her storytelling solidly in the kitchen and with the preparation of food. The story itself resembles a cross between Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella, with its protagonists struggling with forbidden, unrequited love and the consequences of their feelings. The novel follows the journey of Tita, the youngest of an all-female household, who by family tradition is forbidden to marry and obligated to care for her domineering mother for the rest of her life. However, she longs for Pedro, who shares her affections, but through a family-arranged marriage, he becomes betrothed to her sister, Rosaura.
As Tita works in the kitchen, her feelings of love and sadness become imbued into the food she prepares. As a result, the food inspires fiery lust in Gertrudis, her oldest sister, who runs away with an attractive revolutionary, and illness in her sister, Rosaura, who is betrothed to her beloved Pedro.
Ghosts and curses also appear in the story, voicing the different perspectives of Tita's situation, including her feelings of guilt and fear. These supernatural forces, however, also offer a pathway to redemption and reconciliation.
From a psycho-social perspective, the use of symbols and archetypes can actually help us deal with the absurdities and injustices of life and help us heal. This is the of power of myth and storytelling. Through the use of metaphor, we are better able to visualize, process, and channel our feelings. This enables us to work through difficulties to reach workable solutions, both in society and in our own lives.
This particular story, firmly set in the home and kitchen, also points to the importance and power of love in the household, and the misery brought forth in its absence. We are, ultimately, social beings ensconced in a web of human social connections. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors inevitably affect others, whether we know it or not.
The reason this particular book is special to me is because I do believe that love does create its own energy and has the power to heal... even beyond our ability to comprehend or explain it. When I was very ill, I also focused upon food and its preparation, creating my own informal rituals and visualizations to maximize healing. Not only was this reassuring and comforting, but it did seem to assist and accelerate my own healing. So, the power of metaphor to visualize energy and emotion is particularly salient to me.
Again... this is Nicole English from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University.... for the Radio Readers Book Club... wishing you happy reading...!